4 Moms Q&A: homeschooling, meal times

4 Moms 35 Kids answer questions about big familiesFun, fun!  I love Q&A posts, even though you all ask some hard questions.  I’m especially unsure when answering questions about homeschooling, which is probably why I have been saving them all up for a single post.

Why am I unsure about homeschooling questions?  Because there are so many ways to do it, and it’s so hard to say that one way is The Right Way or The Best Way.

That’s not to say that there are no wrong answers and we should all follow the path that feels right, but like creating a menu, there can be many paths to a healthy diet for the body and the mind.  We may share similar goals but have very different circumstances and methods for achieving those goals.
Nonetheless, I’ll gladly answer from my own perspective and hope that others can glean something of value or at least laugh at how far off I am.

For homeschooling resources, check out Vision Forum’s current sale: save up to 60% on over 300 homeschool items!

With that disclaimer and with tongue placed firmly in cheek, here we go:

Malia asked,
How do you honestly and truly keep your kids schoolbooks orderly? Does anyone at your house under the age of 13 have the same journal or book journal thry had last year? So is there a consequence for doing your math in your science notebook? Well you couldn’t find it.
Also, how do you get messy writers become neat writers?? I think you may understand the length and breadth of this question.

I’ve been teasing Perry lately that he has broken me.  I used to be highly organized, and clung tightly to all the concepts you listed above.  He is a more happy-go-lucky guy, gliding happily through life, shaking his head in bewilderment at why we moms constantly stress out over the details.

Under his influence, I have gradually relaxed the schedule, the lesson plans and curriculum, the dedicated notebooks and journals, and even the penmanship.

You know what?  Even without me stressing constantly over school, our children continued to learn.  They still learned new math concepts even when they did their math in pen on an unlined piece of scrap paper.  They still did their other subjects even if they had to spend 10 minutes searching for the book they didn’t put away properly yesterday.  They still filled journals, and their atrocious handwriting improved as they got older and wrote more.
Speaking of handwriting, one subject in which most of my children have not compared favorably with public schoolers is penmanship.  I know we could change this by spending more time on the subject, but I have a slightly different response.  I think the difference is largely because they don’t spend as much time doing “busy work,” assigned just to fill their time.  Their handwriting improves on a different schedule as they get older and naturally begin to write more.  This realization has allowed me to relax as they focus on other areas, while better handwriting follows in its time.


Nicki is scared:
I would love to read anything about beginning to homeschool….I’m scared to death!


Keep in mind, you don’t have to recreate the institutional schooling experience in your home.  That is a system designed for the classroom, and not at all appropriate for the home.  There are much better and easier ways to do the job and make homeschooling a part of your daily life rather than trying to make life fit around a school schedule.

A great place to start is Victoria Botkin’s CD, Curriculum Advice.  She gives plenty of practical advice for getting started, but also helps sooth the fear and uncertainty that so many new homeschoolers face.

Jennifer Dewingo has a question about homeschooling, too:
My eldest is in 10, so that’s about 3rd grade I think (I don’t use one particular curriculum, so I’m guessing) and I haven’t started her, or the others scholars, on a history and science program. I’m thinking of the history program from AIG that Raising Olives has talked about, but that’s not for another 2 years or so. Do you think this would be a problem or not? We do, of course, talk about history details and basic science knowledge (my husband is a chef, so he enjoys talking about the science of cooking). It’s not like they are clueless about things, just not as saturated with details as their public school counterparts are.


This is a perfect example of when my way might not be a good fit for you and your family, but I don’t think there’s a need to use a structured history program at any point unless you want to, so any time is fine.

In the meantime, just make sure your children are reading plenty of books about history and science, and have them narrate back to you what they have read.  Have them write a brief summary of each book.  Read aloud to them, both fiction and non-fiction.  Listen to audio messages about history – our children loved to hear Bill Potter talk about major battles that changed the course of history and how weapons and fighting techniques changed over the centuries.

If your children are reading good books that bring historical figures to life for them, you’ll be shocked at how much they learn and retain, and you may feel less of a need for a structured program when the time comes.

sarfisch has a really tough question about homeschooling:
I have a schooling question. My baby is 9 months old and I am already stressing about preschool. I live in a large city where there is immense competition to get into the best public schools and even greater competition to get into the best private schools.

My husband and I are seriously considering sending her to a private religious school, but we would have to send her at the age of 3 to secure a spot so (on top of the tuition cost – I won’t even tell you because the cost would make you sick) I am hesitant to “ship off” my baby at such a young age.

Now, getting to my question. I am a working mother, so I have never considered homeschooling an option. Let’s assume I continue to work (I understand your feelings/convictions on mothers’ working), do you believe homeschooling is an option? And if so, how can it be done?

Yes, I think homeschooling is an option for a 2 income family, but why?  If you are a Christian – I think you have mentioned in the past that you are – it seems to me you need to examine your goals and ask yourself how you are working toward them.  Which is more important: your job, or a Christian education for your daughter?  Which type of education moves your family toward its goal: homeschooling, or a private institution that must have your baby from the time she’s 3?  If one goal hinders the other, you’ll need to prioritize and make difficult choices.

It’s theoretically possible for a 2 income family to homeschool, but it would be very difficult.  I know you can’t possibly provide all the relevant details in an email, but the way you describe the situation seems to set your job at odds with your daughter so that you must give up either her (by shipping her off as a 3yo) or your job for the sake of her education.  I know that’s a harsh way to put it, but it’s a hard situation for you.

The question here must be, “What are your goals, and how will you achieve them?”

For us, the answer is that God created each of us to fill a special role in life, and the woman’s role is to be home-centered.  A big part of that is child-rearing.  While the Bible never specifically prohibits women from working outside the home (some of what the Proverbs 31 woman is outside the home and she is praised for her industriousness), a career outside the home would be a huge roadblock to fulfilling her primary role as a wife and mother.

I think you are beginning to understand the tension between parenthood and an outside career as you wonder how you can give your daughter the upbringing and education you desire for her, yet keep your job.


From: Joede Fleming
First I want to say that I love the way you write.  You always seem “real”, not worrying about how other might perceive you. I love that, which is probably why I felt compelled to come to you instead of someone else.
I don’t know many homeschoolers.  We have a group in our “area” which is about a 50 mi radius, but they have dropped me as a member because I couldn’t afford the $20 membership fee. Those that I did have contact with at one point were very tight lipped about how their days flowed and how I could help my children learn things they so hated.
I have 6 children, 1 graduates high school this year and hopefully will attend a community college next year to obtain a teachers aide certificate (I know I don’t sound encouraging about this, she has Down syndrome and are hoping the college will grant her access to their classes), an 11yo son who wishes to go to public school much to my chagrin, and those I will homeschool (as of beginning of my official school year) are ages 7, 5, 3, 2.
My will be 7yo does not read yet, and is completely uninterested in anything work related.
This is my first full year schooling so I really need some help in how to teach my 5yo to read, as well as ways to encourage my 7yo.
I just feel lost honestly. We cannot afford to buy new curriculum, my hubby has been out of work for 2yrs and is unable to work due to back problems. I am however going to try and purchase Explode the code as I have heard it is wonderful and also Teaching your child to read in 100 lessons.
I do not have internet access and right now no computer as the video card has gone out.
What can I do to continue educating my children?
I have prayed about this and thought that I was being given signs to return my children to public school but have had nothing but utter anxiety about that thought, which is why I am convinced they need to be home.
Any ideas or thoughts would be appreciated. I hope I haven’t made this seem like an overwhelming amount of pressure on you to give me the “right” or “best” answer,becasue those are all individual and I will use what you say as advice and not as what is right and concrete.
God Bless you! Your blog has encourage me, made me smile and given me hope when I needed them all!!


You’re in a difficult and scary situation, but I applaud your determination to homeschool!  Remember that your goal is to raise Christian adults, and for this you don’t necessarily need a lot of curriculum or shiny electronics.  The Robinson Curriculum is built almost entirely around good books.  There’s no need to buy the curriculum itself.  With the booklist in hand and a good library, you could almost educate your children for free.

A good library will go a long, long way.  Read to your children and with your children, both fiction and non-fiction.  You can cover history, science and civics this way without spending a dime.   Look for Five in a Row
at your library to get a taste of what you can do with a few good books, then try to expand the concept on your own.  You may find that your children enjoy the approach far more than typical textbooks, too.

Read Bible with them every day.  We like to gather round the breakfast table and divide up a chapter of Proverbs, with each of us reading a few verses aloud.  Then we break up for more private reading.

Have them write something daily – a letter, a short story, a journal entry, a summary of a book they’ve recently finished, copy a poem or a passage of Scripture.  Correct their work for spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Spectrum makes inexpensive math workbooks that we like for younger children, and I have even gotten several of these for free from Paperback Swap.  Supplement with homemade flashcards.

Listen to Curriculum Advice, above.  You’ll be encouraged!  You can do this, and God will bless your desire to please Him.

Anna asked,

How do handle mealtimes with self-feeding babies/toddlers? I have 3 children, the youngest is 12 months, and each one has loved to feed themself bite size food as soon as they are able. This makes it very convenient for me to do other things (like feed myself) while they eat, but afterwards we’re left with a ginormous mess. I debate whether it’s worthwhile to just save myself the 15 min clean up afterwards and feed them myself. What do you do?


I love that you used the word ginormous. We love that word in our house!

I let my babies and toddlers feed themselves most of the time.  We have dogs.  There is no mess under the highchair in our house.  It’s probably the only floor in my house.  I highly recommend this method.

They would lick the kids clean too if I let them, but I prefer to just do a quick wipe-down or even a bath.  If you think about it, a bath for a baby or toddler need not take much longer than a diaper change.  I don’t even bother to plug the drain.  Just strip them down, swish them around a moment with the water running and a wash cloth in my hand, and the job is done.

Oh – don’t forget to put a diaper back on when you’re done, or you’ll have worse messes to worry about.

The other moms are taking questions too:

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    1. @sarfisch Just to add a wee bit to the advice here. It sounds like either you or your husband will need to consider cutting back work. Men are fully capable of homeschooling. It sounds like you need to consider all options including your husband taking on an equal role in the homeschooling efforts. My parents were able to bypass daycare when we were young because they were able to stagger the shifts they worked. My husband was home schooled and we know that he would be the primary teacher if we end up homeschooling. There *are* more options then 1. Send 3yo out to school and 2. Wife and Mother 100% at home.

    2. If you could put Joede in contact with me I have a copy of “Teach your child to read in 100 lessons” that I’d like to give her….if I can find it 😉


      • Diana,
        Thank you. I’ve tried to contact Joede with an offer from another generous reader but her email is bouncing. Maybe she’ll see this and contact me…Joede?

    3. Rachel K says:

      A question for a future post, if it seems worth your time. How do you educate yourself on sickness so that you know when to care for a child at home, or when it is serious enough to take them in to see a doctor? I rarely ever take my children in for anything, but I do want to make sure I am being wise in their care. What resources have been helpful to you as a mom to educate you about health and illness? I have been thinking about this a lot, because we have had an unusual amount of illness in our family since February and I am not sure why. It is very hard to even contemplate taking in a child to see the doctor when one has 4 children, 5 years old and younger and not much outside help. How do you juggle this? Any thoughts on this topic would be helpful to me.

    4. Kim – Point well taken.

      I won’t get into the details now, but your response touches on a common theme of me and my husband’s conversations lately. There may be some (good) changes coming to my home in the next 6 months.

      Thank you to the other ladies who responded to this post. Comforting to hear others ideas/stories.

      And, yes, you are right. I am the Christian mother, with the Jewish husband, raising our daughter in both the Christian and Jewish faiths…confused yet?

    5. Love to read your blog and especially about homeschoooling since you can´t homeschool here in Sweden!

    6. For the working mom, I don’t think you can do it with a full time job without relying completely on others. But it can work with a part time job.

      In my experience, the majority of homeschoolers spend no more than 15 hours a week in bookwork. Certain things need to be done every day to retain it (perhaps a couple pages of math before leaving for work in the morning, and a reading lesson at night before bed) but the rest can be done in blocks on free days. The important thing is learning experiences and exploration when the books are shut. If your child watches (non-educational) TV and plays video games all day, it won’t work. But if the person you leave them with while at work can give them hands on learning while you’re away, and the child will read ‘real’ books to supplement your work through the week, it’s entirely possible.

      Hands on learning isn’t hard, it’s the things we do as parents anyway. It’s involving her in cooking and explaining when she asks what the baking soda is for. It’s taking a bushwalk and pointing out animals and their homes. It’s deciding to have a big project, studying and then biulding a medieval castle out of cardboard boxes. It’s playing with a childrens chemistry set or reading a book about knights and princesses.You need someone you can trust to provide this, but it is not impossible.

      Another option is, do you have any homeschooling friends? We had a girl come to our house for school three days a week at one point, mum taught her along with us for a fee. However that can be a strain, especially on a young family, and the burden cannot be shared because the child needs some consistency to the curriculum.

      Another option is if any of these homeschooling friends have older daughters. We considered this arrangment when I was in grade 10/11, and a friend had a younger child who they wanted to homeschool. You pick the curriculums etc, and you teach the child on the days you are home, but on the days you are working you could hire an older homeschooler to teach, or if you know a few families you could share it around. Helping teach and care for a child once every two weeks is far less overwhelming than three days a week.

      And remember, you don’t have to follow the normal calender. If you are working part time two days a week, make those days the weekend, and make the weekend school days. The bookwork of homeschooling should rarely last more than 3 or 4 hours a day, so there is still plenty of time for normal activities and weekend fun.

      I stay at home with my daughter and am a second generation homeschooler, so I do agree with the comments of others about staying home. But to me, any child homeschooled is a child better off, and whether or not you choose to work shouldn’t stop your child having the best education.

    7. samantha says:

      Some other cheap ideas for homeschooling –

      Ebay has a wide variety of new and used curriculum, and if you get many books from the same seller, they usually combine shipping to save you money. I’ve averaged $2-3 a book for history, science, comprehension readers, literature. For math, I prefer the school textbooks, which average $80 or more new, but you can get them for $5-$15 on Ebay in very good to new condition.

      Ambleside Online is another free curriculum with book lists for the library.

      Local used curriculum sales through a homeschool group or church.

      Garage sales are good for reading books (fiction and non-fiction) for kids and young adults, but not as good for more structured curriculum in my experience.

    8. Putting aside convictions about women working outside the home, as an option for Sarfisch, I have heard of families who considered hiring a private tutor so that they can home educate their children while both parents worked outside the home. If a family is already considering sky-high tuition, then hiring a private tutor might actually be financially viable. A trained, licensed teacher, maybe a recent college grad, might jump on a chance to teach a few children at home.

    9. Sarfisch’s question is interesting. We started home ed just over two years ago. I was still working part-time and dh working from home. I left work for when I was out and the little ones went to day care.
      To be honest, it was difficult. Dh became more busy with work and I could only leave routine work and not go onto anything where there might be questions/ art/science experiments and wasn’t around to check that things were understood. As a result, we decided after much thought and prayer that I should stop working. It wasn’t an easy decision after over twenty years in a professional post but we are sure that it was the right way to go.

    10. To the moms anxious about homeschooling, my answers would be very similar to yours Kim. I think of the tools Caroline Ingalls had at her disposal when she taught her girls before they went to school… not much! Her love and attention, daily chores and practical lessons, a little math and the Bible were pretty much it. 🙂

    11. Loved this. I also don’t emphasize handwriting. Mine is terrible and I think I’ve done ok in life : ). Who knows, perhaps I’m educating future physicians : ).

      In answer to the lady who asked about homeschooling in a two career family. It is possible, but difficult. I was teaching in a university and took my son to school with me. I was only homeschooling one of our then 4 kids (the others were preschool and younger). I had one day off per week and my husband had a different day off each week, so I only had to take my son to work/school with me 3 days a week. I paid a college student to play with him in the activity center when I had class. It didn’t seem sustainable so I chose to stay home so I could homeschool all of our children.


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